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SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Ship Island remains open to the public, for now. But the oil disaster is having a significant impact on that popular tourist destination. Countless tar patties are washing ashore and a growing number of oil-covered birds are struggling to survive.
Oil patties cover large sections of the island, both on the south beach and the north shore.
About 100 visitors and tourists rode the Ship Island Excursion ferry to the island on Friday. But unlike the beach on the mainland, where hundreds of workers are scooping up oil patties, clean-up crews on the island were nowhere to be found on Friday.
The Murden family planned to enjoy a day of sun and surf on Ship Island.
"Heard that oil had hit the beach a little bit. But thought we might still be able to make it out and have a good time," said Robbie Murden.
The Murdens and other visitors found the expected oil patties on the island's south beach. Large patties could be found to the west, but mostly smaller globs of oil on the main section of beach.
Parents told children to watch where they walk.
"We've been able to get in the water and avoid the big black spots and have had a good time," said Robbie Murden.
Oil patties covered large sections of sand, but there was no sign of any oily mess in the water, which was welcome news for the Murden children.
"They're having a great time. It doesn't matter to them. They're just trying to watch so they don't step in it as much and we tried to make a path for them so they could kind of go around that way," said Kristy Murden.
Despite protective boom, the strong surf pushes oil ashore on this normally pristine getaway place. Captain Louis Skrmetta is frustrated.
"They're spending millions and millions of dollars on boats riding around out there doing nothing. They should have had boats already hired, ready to bring people out here," said Skrmetta.
For now, beach visitors can dodge the oil patties by simply walking around them. But just a few yards away from the beach umbrellas, it's a much sadder story for oil-covered wildlife struggling to survive.
We spotted the first bird not far from the last beach umbrella. Covered in oily mess, the animal is barely able to move.
A bit farther down the beach, same story. A bird we first thought was already dead struggled mightily to show some sign of life. We saw five such birds in all, one dead, the others slowly dying.
"It's not a real good thing for visitors to see on their arrival to Ship Island with their families," said Skrmetta.
A pelican coated in oil prompted shaking heads and sad glances from island visitors. Children took notice.
"Mom, this is sad because that pelican is sick," said one youngster, after watching the oily pelican.
Despite all the oil, we saw no clean up crews on Ship Island Friday.
WLOX News talked with Nina Kelson, deputy superintendent for Gulf Islands National Seashore. She says the crews are deployed to different areas, depending on the extent of oil intrusion.
Crews were working on Petit Bois Island Friday, but should be on Ship Island Saturday. She also said keeping Ship Island open to the public is a decision they're reviewing on a daily basis.
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